“See, you don’t get the same experience of India from a car”. Pete was right. Behind the darkened windows of the a/c taxi, you couldn’t feel the warm wild of the wind. You couldn’t hear the ripping of the road in your ears or smell the cavalcade of cashew, masala, garlic, sulphur, diesel and shit.
We hadn’t been more than twenty minutes when we passed a hut of a bar, with a carefully painted sign, “Restro”. There was something about the place that pleased me. That made me feel like we’d somehow missed out. That our six weeks in Goa had become suddenly incomplete. The cab turned into the petrol station opposite, “we are here”, announced our driver. Opposite Calvahle petrol pump. I checked the ticket and that was, indeed, the dubious location where we were to catch our Mumbai bus. We asked a couple of shady looking characters for corroboration and they pointed vaguely to the side of the road. Being an hour early and having ascertained, in no uncertain terms, where to catch our ride from, I merrily suggested we grab a beer in the ‘restro’.
We ducked our heads under the too small doorway and entered the main dining hall, which was maybe six feet square with two plastic tables. Barely lit, the dim concrete interior was only brightened by the jolly host who was bursting with excitement at the prospect of presenting his menu to the uninitiated. He ushered us through another woodwormed doorway into the back yard.
“You try fish cutlet? Fish? Cutlet?” His eyebrows urged.
“Oh no. We’re vegetarian. Just two Kingfisher please.”
“Fish cutlet? Here. Here is menu…”
He pointed to a yellowed sheet of A4, taped to the flaking crumble of the wall:
Peaking fried rice
“Shall we have a samosa?” I appealed to Pete.
“We’ll have two samosas and two Kingfisher please, Sir.”
“Very good, Madam. You try fish cutlet? In roll?”
“No, no – “
“I bring. You eat what you want and leave what you don’t”.
He returned shortly with 2 samosas, 2 fish cutlets and 3 bread rolls.
“Bread selection”, he nodded enthusiastically. “Brown bread. Sweet bread. And milky bread!”
“Mmm. Lovely. Thank you very much.”
We politely ate our samosas, amongst snuffed out giggles of disbelief at the extraordinary nature of this dining experience. As we enjoyed the last of our beer, it wasn’t long till we had to leave for the bus so I decided to finish off our pre-journey pit stop with a well-planned toilet break.
“Excuse me, Sir, where’s the bathroom?”
“Number one or number two?”
“Oh! Er. Number 1!” I replied, deeply amused.
“Ah is ok. You can go up there.”
He pointed to a place beyond the waist-high wall where there was only darkness. With laughter rising and urine descending, the weight of my bladder dragged me to the back of the yard where I innocently expected there to be a hole in the ground that might just make it as a toilet. I was wrong. There was nothing but a pile of rubbish. I looked out to Pete, who was giggling from his garden furniture and shifted my gaze to our nodding, smiling host who was shamelessly encouraging me to do what I needed to do. And so I did. I squatted down, giggled my way through it and returned to my seat.
“It’s ok at night. For the ladies. But in the day, not so good,” our host seamlessly continued the conversation. “Number 1 is ok at night. Number 2, have to go to petrol station.”
The idea of suggesting he provide a toilet for his restaurant clientele seemed ironically inappropriate. There is certainly a directness to Indian folk, which I can’t help but admire. It’s something I’d like to adopt but that’s probably the only thing I wanted to take with me from this unique dining experience.